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A Grand Time: Exploring the Wonder of the Grand Canyon

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There are those that try to tell you the Grand Canyon is nothing more than a big hole in the ground. Do not take their opinion seriously. They either have never actually visited this splendid natural wonder, or they went there the week after their significant other dumped them or something as equally miserable. The Grand Canyon is majestic to the point where it defies you to come up with a proper description of its beauty. Spoiler alert: you will fail in this endeavor.

While the Grand Canyon is a place whose beauty will shake you to the core, it is also a tourist destination surrounded by several touristy things. The tourist vibe is something we know we can’t avoid, especially since our trip to the Canyon is a family-friendly jaunt, so we decide that it’s best to embrace the cheese. We stay in Williams, a small Arizona town about an hour south of the canyon’s South Rim. Williams is a tourist double-whammy. It is located on the stretch of road that was once part of Route 66, and it is the southern terminus of the Grand Canyon Railway. When your friends say “we’re taking the train to the Grand Canyon,” they are staring their journey in Williams.

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We take the train to the Grand Canyon. Before that, though, we stay the night at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, a place whose primarily allure is convenience – it is adjacent to the station where you catch your rail-bound ride. It’s about as no-frills as you can get, but the indoor pool and inclusive breakfast and dinner buffet make it a decent enough family spot to crash for a day or two. Be forewarned: The buffet turns out to be the culinary nadir of our trip.

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But we’re not in Williams to eat. We’re here to get to the Grand Canyon. Right before we board the train, we take in a goofy little Wild West show as we stand in 40 degree weather (not all of Arizona is blazing hot desert, kids). I get the feeling we may see the show’s performers later on.

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The train itself is comfortable and rustic, containing just enough of an old-timey feel without being too gimmicky. The trip takes about a couple hours, plenty of time for my wife and me to enjoy a surprisingly tasty cocktail. It also provides our girls time to make each other laugh, enjoy a free kid-friendly snack, and look outside the window and take in the Northern Arizona landscape.

We arrive at the Grand Canyon, and well…how do you describe the indescribable? The best that I can come up with is that it is the only place I’ve ever seen, natural or man-made, that I could not comprehend even as I was looking at it. Neither can my daughters, who are utterly gobsmacked at each viewing point we explore. “It looks like a painting!” is a common refrain I hear from the both of them. This is not an insult; the combination of color, size, and the distance from one side of the Canyon to the other gives it a still-life quality, hence why it is so difficult to wrap your head around what you see. I’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t take your kids to the Grand Canyon until they are old enough to understand its significance. You’re better off just picking an age – say, 8 or 9. You’ll be waiting your whole life otherwise.

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We hop back on the train and my suspicions from earlier in the day are realized. The performers from the morning’s Wild West show have re-appeared as bandana-clad bandits. The girls, ever cunning, hatch a plan: They are going to stop the baddies by reciting Baymax’s greeting from “Big Hero 6.” The villain comes. They chicken out. It’s a beautiful sight.

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Our family has taken turns trying to describe the Grand Canyon’s grandeur with sufficient words since we returned from our trip. We really have not been able to do so. Our photos can’t really convey its sheer splendor. If this all sounds like hyperbole, it’s probably because you haven’t gone. You should.

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Rich Manning is a freelance writer that has been covering Orange County’s food, wine, and lifestyle scene for ten years. He currently lives in Fountain Valley with his wife, two daughters, and two dogs.
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